The Chorus Pedals: 101
The chorus pedals are one of the most popular in the music worlds and, some might say, essential pedals in the rock genre. They were a music staple back in the 1980s, but they are still widely applied in most modern rock subgenres, especially in progressive, alternative & indie rock, grunge; but also in jazz and modern pop. Why you might ask?
Well, essentially, it adds depth to the sound and tones, and can also make the signal of one guitar sound like there are 2 or 3 instruments playing simultaneously. If the chorus pedal is powerful enough and is set up properly, of course. The delay line of the chorus creates a shimmering, juicy and syrupy tone effect from the analog circuits; and sharp, clear and glassy tones from the digital circuits.
How Does the Chorus Effect Work?
As you now know, the chorus effect thickens the guitar signal, adds spaciousness and character. How does it do this? Well, essentially, the chorus splits the guitar signal into ‘dry’ (original) & ‘wet’ (duplicated and modified) signals. By splitting the sound, it adds short delays and tone variations. The signal is then blended back together, creating a spacious, thick sound. Acoustically, it sounds like the signal is running through the amps with a tiny little delay between them.
Chorus, as a modulation effect pedal, is usually placed at the end of the signal chain – right before the amplifier. You can also connect it to two amps simultaneously (if the pedal has two outputs) to intensify the modulation effect. As with any other pedal, the chorus effect is manipulated through the control knobs. The more controls you get, the more versatile the chorus pedal is; as you get more room for the modifications, mixing, jamming and all that. It also means you get more precise control over the chorus effect.
Is a Chorus Pedal Necessary?
As with everything in music (ok, mostly everything) it depends purely on the music genre you are playing. If you are a blues or country musician, there is no need for a spacious, shimmering sound. Yet, if you are into rock, indie or pop, or simply play multiple genres and want to add some spice to your practice – do get one. It adds character to your music and helps to shape your unique sound. Start with the die-hard analog classics like MXR M234 or Boss CH-1 to see if the chorus pedal suits your musical style.
What Applications Are Most Suitable for Chorus Effect?
Even though chorus does sound like a really interesting addition to your music, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it at all times. There are a couple of tricks to keep in mind when you are setting up a signal chain:
- Chorus with a Clean Channel – using your chorus on a clean channel does wonders. It’s maybe the simplest amp channel, but it allows you to take most of the chorus as the signal is less affected by the amp itself. You can play more with the controls and you also have more room for creativity.
- Chorus with Distortion/Overdrive – mixing distortion and chorus together might sound like overkill, but you’ll be surprised how well it works during solos! Blending these two in the main section will mess up the overall sound of the band, but a little bit of chorus effect on the distorted channel will give extra character and help your part to stand out.
- Transparent Chorus Pedals – too much chorus effect can ruin your sound just as easily as a bad guitar build or crappy bridge. Yet, transparent chorus pedals help to avoid this problem, as their effect on tones is barely noticeable. It doesn’t mean that the effect isn’t noticeable, but that your tone isn’t damaged. Analog pedals are the most transparent ones, as they keep a continuous signal and don’t jeopardize the tone.
Analog VS Digital
The debate between analog and digital chorus is as heated as the one between the Floyd Rose Bridge or a True Bypass. Yet, it all comes down to personal preference. If you really want to know what it’s all about, I’ll give you two explanations, technical and a normal one.
First, the main difference is that analog is a continuous sound signal, while a digital signal represents sound as a sequence of individual discrete values. Basically, the analog sound remains intact through the pedal, the digital samples, and the original guitar signal, creating a discontinuous presentation.
What’s really happening (or what we should care about) is the way it affects the sound. Analog sound is warmer, more natural, and smooth. The digital chorus has this unnatural, mad-man overdrive. However, more precision comes with the digital pedals, as they allow for more accuracy and control precision.
Basic Control Knobs/Settings
There are a number of different control knobs and as some basically mean the same thing, it’s easy to get confused. Especially, because each pedal has a different control knob configuration. Here are the most common ones:
- Rate // Speed – controls the speed and type of signal modulation (also one of the most popular knobs on chorus pedals)
- Width // Depth – controls the amount of chorus effect. The higher the setting is, the more noticeable the effect
- EQ – for boosting or cutting treble frequencies
- Lag (a specialty of Walrus Audio) – allows you to modify the delay time the effect modulates from. It is needed for extra-fine tuning
- Level/mix – offers extra precision as it allows for a set amount of choruses coming thru the output
Chorus pedals are one of the most interesting effect modulation pedals on the market. They can turn the driest, flat guitar tone into something colorful and juicy – if you use it appropriately. Choose a digital pedal like Boss CH-1 if you are a progressive/alternative rock player and need some extra sharp overdriven tones. If you are looking for an ultimate classic, get the EHX Small Clone which will take you to the world of Nirvana. But if you are as obsessed with music as I am, get yourself Walrus Audio Julia – a high-end, versatile beast which will take your music to a parallel reality.